Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Lion, the Witch, and the Turnip Truck: Free Work and Paying to Play

A while ago, Ken Cheeseman told me, and others like me, that we should never have to pay for the right to audition. I mean, you wouldn't pay someone for an interview, right?

That shit's getting harder and harder to do, because there are plenty of people who don't think your time is worth anything, because there are a bunch of people who want to do what you do who don't think their time is worth anything.

The acting profession has always been a weird damn thing. Centuries ago, they were on par with whores. And, going by classical definitions, things have not changed drastically.

I don't know if it's cliche by now to compare real actors with reality television stars. I know for some presentation, a school colleague of mine paralleled performances by Terry O'Quinn and Snooki.

That's one thing. If people want Snooki then, well, that's the climate. You can't change it. It's the same as print, architecture, law - demands change. Climate change is old news in acting.

What Terry and Snooki have in common is that they don't do this shit for free. And just because you don't have a recognizable name, that doesn't mean you should be doing it for nothing. There are a lot of numbers between zero and a million.

Two recent articles have brought the worth of my efforts to my consciousness' center stage, so to speak.

1) Should you work for free?

The answer's complicated, and depends on you and your field, but there are some other handy questions to ask yourself after the initial one.

  • Do they pay other people who do this work? Do their competitors?

  • Am I learning enough from this interaction to call this part of my education?

  • Is this public work with my name on it, or am I just saving them cash to do a job they should pay for?

  • If I get paid, is it more likely the organization will pay closer attention, promote it better and treat it more seriously?

  • Do I care about their mission? Can they afford to do this professionally?

  • Will I get noticed by the right people, people who will help me spread the word to the point where I can get hired to do this professionally?

  • What's the risk to me, my internal monologue and my reputation if I do this work?

  • There's also a handy flowchart here.

    2) Networking event with casting directors called off
    For a fee of $25, organizers — Caruso and local Coldwell Banker realtor Anthony Menounos — promised to put participants in front of established Hollywood casting directors whom they declined to identify.
    Also on the agenda was a silent auction for a bridge in Florida.

    As fishy as hell as this sort of thing sounds, it's not even the worst-case scenario. There have been actual networking events that have occurred where people pay even MORE money to meet actual people who don't otherwise give a good damn.

    And y'know? Maybe that's okay. I'm sure there's a reason for it. Like, say, you don't actually have the skill or know-how to give a good audition, but you can schmooze up a storm, then that's one way to be noticed. Or you just hate having so much money. But please understand why you're giving your money away.

    As I'm trying to get a foot into voice-over, I find out that most audition websites have registration fees exceeding a hundred dollars. Just to even be considered you've got to pay.

    And whenever I see an audition in StageSource or Playbill with an audition fee, my mind just reels.

    Let me tell you about a mistake I made this past year.

    I paid a certain "production" company (studio? performance lab? still figuring it out) a certain amount of money for the privilege of meeting one of my favorite voice actors in a workshop.

    And, money aside, it was cool. He was a great guy. He retold a lot of stories I heard from his podcast, but he actually listened to me perform and then autographed something for my mom.

    The head of the company talked me up and down, and invited me to come into their facilities. Weeks later, I agreed. I was hoping to find out specifics about services and pricing, but because a chunk of my trip involved walking along route 9 in the wrong direction on a hot day, I was late, and didn't get to that part in the conversation.

    I was invited to sit in on the first part of an introductory Meisner class taught by a visiting professional.
    Here's a thing about Emerson College:

    In my theatre training, I was taught many methods to use in characterization and performance. They were not considered to be "philosophies" or "techniques," but merely tools. For any given project, I used only the tools I needed, and did not fetishize or deify any method I learned. That is one thing Emerson is to be commended for. It's the jeet kune do of acting.

    However, nothing I learned was ever named. I was tested on the history of defunct and irrelevant theatrical practices, but the differences between Stanislavski and Meisner are merely cosmetic to me. As a result, I always feel less knowledgeable than actors who have gone to other schools.

    Fortunately, knowing that stuff doesn't make you better or worse.
    So I sat and thought, Oh. So this is Meisner.

    I already paid tens of thousands of dollars to learn this, and I don't want to pay any more.

    Still, that didn't necessarily mean there weren't other things to be learned here, especially where the elusive mayfly of voice-over is concerned. So I thanked those on staff for the time that they did manage to spend with me, and made my way to leave.

    In the hallway towards the foyer, a bunch of framed headshots were hung with care, clearly belonging to those trained by the studio. I was happy to find among them a headshot belonging to an old colleague of mine.

    When I went home, I message him on Facebook, telling him I visited the studio, and:
    I saw your headshot on their wall. How do you feel about those cats? Are they cool? Worth my time and money?
    To which he replied,
    Terry, I have to say it's definitely a little weird to me that my headshot was on their wall seeing as how I have never worked with them or set foot in their studio.


    I'll be launching my professional web site pretty soon. I plan on being super positive and polite on that, just like regular actors are.

    But this isn't L.A. If I have any asses to lick in Boston, they're probably asses I don't need to associated with.

    And if I'm not using this blog as a place to get dirty about the inspiring and infuriating cesspool that is arts and entertainment, then I'm doing a disservice to the other artists trying to figure their stuff out.

    So everyone out there who plans on scamming actors along with the other pie-faced dweebs who want to be on Broadway or whatever:

    Please don't treat us like we just fell off the goddamn turnip truck.

    You wouldn't ask a homeless person to dance for you and then take their dime, so don't try that shit with us.

    And actors, if you've been doing it right, you've already put your hard work into honing your craft.

    So ask yourself: "When is acting gonna start working for me?"


    1. Yes!! Love this post. And to add to your "actors used to be as low as prostitutes" comment: whores don't ask their johns if they can pay THEM to do their job...why should actors?